Review: Apple Computer iQuiz (aka iPod Quiz)
Pros: A visually-evolved sequel to 2003’s built-in iPod game Music Quiz, drawing on your iPod’s music database for five fun, game show-like rounds of trivia, plus wagering bonus rounds. Engaging and fun. Includes separate factual trivia packs for music, movies, and TV shows that don’t require these forms of content to be on your iPod. For first time ever, permits users to create their own add-on trivia packs with graphics and text of their own, whether educational, fun, or serious, using free quiz creation software. Aggressively priced by iPod Game standards.
Cons: Requires a well-tuned iPod music database for main Music Quiz 2 portion to work properly, and even then, randomly-generated questions occasionally may be difficult to answer other than with random luck. Relatively high iPod battery drain in Music Quiz 2 mode. User-generated trivia is presented in flatter interface outside of title’s game show-themed main mode, which itself looks fine but not beautiful.
Long-time Apple followers have come to expect pleasant surprises from the Cupertino, California-based company, so for some, the subtle features of the latest iPod game iQuiz ($1, known in certain overseas terrtitories as iPod Quiz) will be easy to take for granted. But having tested all of the iPod games released to date, we found ourselves especially impressed with the features of this new trivia title—including the first-ever option to add user-created content to an iPod game. A highly recommended purchase for fifth-generation iPod owners, especially at a price of only $1, it misses our flat A rating only for technical reasons.
At its core, iQuiz is essentially a fifth-generation iPod evolution of the Music Quiz game Apple added to third-generation iPods in late 2003. For those unfamiliar with Music Quiz, the text- and audio-only game was little more than “Name That Tune,” with a list of multiple choices, a timer, and a scoreboard. The faster you named the tune playing through your headphones, the more points you received.
iQuiz’s best mode is called Music Quiz 2, and hugely expands the repertoire of the original by drawing on the expanded track data now commonly found on fifth-generation iPods. Set up like a game show, Music Quiz 2 searches your iPod’s database and asks questions based on what it finds: “is this song’s title [blank],” “this top hit came from which of the following albums,” and “what year is this song from” questions are just a few of the common variants.
The surprises are in the parts of Music Quiz 2 that go beyond simple text data pulled from your collection. Album art now plays a prominent role, with “pick the right album cover” and “is there a song on this album called [blank]” questions spicing up the otherwise plain visual interface. And occasionally you’ll get a trivia question based on the music industry or specific instruments, such as what modern piano keys are made from, or how many copies need to be sold to earn an artist a gold album.
In Music Quiz 2 mode—one of four default game types available—you go through five successive questioning rounds with eight questions per round, ending at any round in which you answer three questions incorrectly. If you survive each round, there’s a bonus round. Bonus rounds come in two flavors, user-selected on the “Wheel of Chance:” Lightning Round or Who/What/When. Lightning Round puts up a true/false question on screen, and asks you to press the iPod’s center button whenever a true response comes up.
Who/What/When presents you with two possible Who, What, or When choices and a series of questions relating to the choices. You might be given two years (1975 and 2005), two artists, or two album names, and then told to match the songs you hear with the correct choice. Both of the bonus rounds have you place a per-question wager in advance of learning the questions, so you have a chance to really expand or destroy your score. The higher your bet, the fewer questions you’ve given.
While Music Quiz 2 isn’t the match of classic trivia games such as Trivial Pursuit in depth or You Don’t Know Jack in style, it is entertaining and engaging, limited mostly by technical issues. Unlike most trivia games, its dependence on your iPod’s database makes it susceptible to errors: if you have the wrong album art or improperly tagged music files, you’re going to get questions wrong, or be presented with questions that don’t make a lot of sense. Similarly, Quiz 2 often presents you with questions such as, “What year was the hit album Greatest Hits released,” or “Which artist recorded the smash Anthology,” when you may have multiple albums with similar names. There’s also an oddity in the Lightning Rounds: you get no credit for false answers, only true ones, so if the game presents you with only falses—it’s happened—you get no bonus points. Thankfully these issues only present themselves infrequently, but when they do, iQuiz isn’t as fun as it could have been with slightly more aggressive coding.
One minor issue persists in Music Quiz 2 from its predecessor: battery drain. Because the game frequently loads from the iPod’s hard disk, and still doesn’t appear to aggressively cache music, art, or data in advance, you’ll note that the on-iPod battery meter drains down at an unusually fast rate. While we can live with this given that the game’s intended to be played in short spurts, and that it does a lot more visually (if not beautifully) than the original Music Quiz, a more aggressive battery management system would have been appreciated.
In addition to Music Quiz 2, iQuiz includes three other Trivia games, which all follow a single format that’s different from MQ2. Movie Trivia, Music Trivia, and TV Show Trivia each present you with 10 questions pulled from separate databases provided by Apple. As with Quiz 2, three incorrect answers will end the game automatically, but ten correct answers don’t allow you to continue or earn any major in-game kudos. There’s a single screen that tells you you’ve won, and then you get to play again or quit.
If that sounds limited or boring by comparison with Music Quiz 2, the truth is that it is—a little. Apple intentionally stripped this mode down, removing the album art, intermission graphics, and iPod music tracks in favor of more repetitive background sounds and pictures. Movie Trivia asks about the backgrounds of stars, histories, promotions, and details of films, and Oscars, amongst other topics, doing a pretty good job of spreading out modern and classic questions. Music Trivia takes a step past simple “what’s on your iPod?” questions, discussing the backgrounds of artists, specific songs, lyrics, and the top 40 charts. Rock and pop get heavy play, with only token questions about other genres. TV Shows are very similar, but with questions geared towards recent television programs.
None of these trivia sections requires content to be on your iPod—iQuiz has its own databases for each of these sections. The big surprise here is that Apple, in partnership with Aspyr Media, actually allows users to create or download additional trivia questions, answers, and artwork that work within the limited, non-Music Quiz 2 interface. Aspyr has developed a free tool called iQuiz Maker, as well as some sample graphic themes and trivia packs, to get you started. At press time, the company’s already offering free additional packs called TV Sayings, Saved By The Bell, Beer, Cats & Dogs, and Human Anatomy; you can also download a separate program called Quiz Installer if you only want to upload new trivia packs without creating them. Mac versions of both programs are available now; PC versions are coming in may.
The subtly brilliant part of iQuiz, and iQuiz Maker, is hinted at through the Human Anatomy trivia pack. Apple has made clear that iQuiz can be adapted for educational purposes, so a teacher could conceivably release iPod-compatible quiz software with his or her own graphics and questions, most likely as a tutoring alternative for students. iQuiz Maker can increase the default number of questions asked during a single play up to 256, end the game with 1-7 incorrect responses, and change everything from the art to the color of each piece of text.
As modest as they may seem, iQuiz’s customization features constitute a major step forward for iPod software development: after modestly expanding Notes Reader with limited HTML-style linking to pages, photos, audio, and videos, Apple has offered another sandbox—now with graphics—for iPod game developers to play in. While we continue to hope that the company will offer additional companies superior access to iPods’ gaming features, this is a nice step forward.
Overall, even if it had been sold at the normal iPod Games price of $5, we’d think iQuiz was a very solid offering—a smarter-than-average time-waster with cool ties to your iPod’s content library, and the ability to be expanded through free additional downloads. Since it’s sold for only $1, we see it as a nearly mandatory purchase even if you only occasionally play games on your iPod; it may be worth the price of admission solely to let you play with its Aspyr-assisted customization features. That said, you’ll probably want to clean up the track data and album art in your iTunes library before sinking your teeth into Music Quiz 2 mode, or prepare to remind yourself once in a while: it’s only a game, right?